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From about 770 to about 830, commercial explorers began an intensive penetration of the Volga region.
From early bases in the estuaries of the rivers of the eastern Baltic region, Germanic commercial-military bands, probably in search of new routes to the east, began to penetrate territory populated by Finnic and Slavic tribes, where they found amber, furs, honey, wax, and timber products.
This decline seems to have been part of a general shift of trade routes that can for convenience be associated with the First Crusade (1096–99) and that made the route from the Black Sea to the Baltic less attractive to commerce.
At the same time, conflicts among the Rurikid princes acquired a more pronounced regional and separatist nature, reflecting new patterns in export trade along the northern and western periphery.
(Roman Mstislavich of Galicia and Volhynia repeated these actions in 1203.) By the middle of the 12th century, the major principalities, owing to the prosperity and colonization of the Kievan period, had developed into independent political and economic units.
The paucity of evidence about social and political institutions in Kievan Rus suggests that they were rudimentary.
There was increased activity in the north Volga, where Scandinavian traders who had previously operated from bases on Lakes Ladoga and Onega established a new centre, near present-day Ryazan.
The debate has from the beginning borne nationalistic overtones.
Trading empires of that era seem to have known and exploited the northern forests—particularly the vast triangular-shaped region west of the Urals between the Kama and Volga rivers—but these contacts seem to have had little lasting impact.
Between the 4th and 9th centuries East Slavs, who during this time were spreading south and east from an area between the Elbe River and the Pripet Marshes.
In the 9th century, as a result of penetration into the area from the north and south by northern European and Middle Eastern merchant adventurers, their society was exposed to new economic, cultural, and political forces.
The scanty written records tell little of the processes that ensued, but archaeological evidence—notably, the Middle Eastern coins found in eastern Europe—indicates that the development of the East Slavs passed through several stages.